Puberty: helping your child handle the changes

Puberty: helping your child handle the changes

Starting a conversation about puberty with your child

It's not always easy to talk with children about their bodies. But having a series of open and relaxed conversations before the physical changes of puberty start will help your child feel OK when his body starts to change.

You can use a three-step process to start a conversation about puberty:

  1. Find out what your child knows. For example, you could ask, 'Do they talk about puberty and physical changes in health classes at school? What do they say?'
  2. Give your child the facts and correct any misinformation. For example, 'Everyone goes through these changes, but not always at the same pace'.
  3. Use the conversation as an opportunity to talk about your values. For example, 'If you have a wet dream, don't worry - just strip the bed and take your sheets to the laundry'.

Sometimes, you can start a conversation by picking up on a scene in a movie or TV show, a book that you've both read, or a comment on the radio as you're driving in the car.

It's a good idea to have big or difficult conversations when your child is ready to talk and listen. During puberty, children might want more privacy and time to themselves. It's about picking the moments when your child seems open to talking.

Also, your child might not want to share everything with you anymore, so try not to force communication when your child doesn't want to talk. Your child might also be interested in talking with the school counsellor or a GP.

Teenagers compare their bodies to friends and siblings. Children whose development seems to be taking a long time compared to friends might be frustrated or worried.

How to talk about puberty with your child

To handle the changes of puberty, your child needs support, reassurance and facts. You or another trusted adult can help by:

  • giving simple, factual explanations of physical changes - for example, 'Periods are when the lining of your uterus comes out of your vagina. It looks like blood'
  • reinforcing that physical changes are different for every child - for example, 'Some children start getting pubic hair when they're around 11, but it can be earlier or later'
  • using the right words when you're talking about body parts - for example, 'It's normal for your penis and testes to start getting bigger around now'.

It's also important to:

  • reassure your child that puberty is an important and exciting life stage
  • avoid words like 'right' or 'wrong' when it comes to development
  • not compare your child to others.
Teenagers are adjusting to their changing bodies, which might make them self-conscious or embarrassed at times. Ensure your child has some privacy and a private space, and always knock before entering your child's room.

Healthy lifestyle choices for your child in puberty

In puberty, your child is coping with lots of physical changes. If your child eats well, gets enough physical activity and sleep, and looks after her personal hygiene, she's more likely to feel OK about her changing body. Here are some ways you can help.

Encourage healthy eating
Your child is likely to have an increased appetite and need more food. You can best meet your teenage child's nutritional needs by:

  • providing healthy foods and drinks at home
  • encouraging healthy choices when you're out
  • eating healthily yourself.

Encourage a healthy, balanced diet - overeating or having too many high-sugar and high-fat foods and drinks can lead to adolescent overweight or obesity. Disordered eating and dieting can also be an issue during this time.

Support your child's physical activity
For good physical and mental health, your child needs at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. You can keep your child active by encouraging daily movement and keeping him involved in team and individual outdoor and indoor activities.

Encourage healthy sleep routines
Teenagers need enough good-quality sleep. You can help by:

  • encouraging your child to stick to a regular bedtime
  • encouraging 'winding down' before bedtime - try having no screen time for at least an hour before bedtime and avoiding high-sugar foods and caffeinated drinks
  • making sure your child has a quiet, comfortable sleeping environment.
You can be a healthy role model for your child by eating well yourself, doing some physical activity and getting enough sleep. By reinforcing that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and not comparing your child's body or your own body to other people's, you can also be a great role model for positive body image.

When you're worried about your child and puberty

Every child experiences physical changes at a different rate. If you're concerned about your child's rate of development or about the way your child's body is changing, talk to a health professional - for example, your GP.

Children who go through early or late puberty might need extra support. Boys and girls who experience physical changes very early might be less prepared emotionally or get confused or worried by the changes. Your child might feel embarrassed if she experiences early or late physical changes.